Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My collaboration with Yoko Ono

Oh Yoko.
Let's not discuss what we think about the former Mrs. Lennon. Keep reading and you'll see why I cannot discuss it.

Ono has spent much of her "artistic" career after her husband's death performing art events or happenings demonstrating her conceptual artistry. I tend to treat purely conceptual art the same way I treat golf. I acknowledge its existence and understand that some people are really great at it, but I do not spend any significant amount of time thinking about it. I have nothing against it, but in the same way that golf cannot hold a candle to baseball or football....conceptual/performance based art cannot compete with sculpture or drawing for my attention. I have enough to think about already.

Still, I'll watch the replay of the amazing golf shot. Or the one where the guy throws his driver in the water. Golf is not my thing, but I do appreciate when someone does something excellent within it. And when someone does something noteworthy in conceptual or performance based art I’ll take a look at that too.

I've sat through videos and written descriptions of Ono's performances in the plethora of Art History courses tucked away in my noggin but it was not until I ran across this one by accident that I became impressed.

In 1996 Ono wrote "100 Acorns" which she turned into a blog in 2008. Each day for 100 days, Ms. Ono published a post of conceptual instructions for performance pieces. Some of these were as simple as asking readers to imagine something or to watch a sunset, but this one....this one just jumped at me.

"Cleaning Piece III" instructs readers:

"Try to say nothing negative about anybody
a) for three days
b) for forty-five days
c) for three months

See what happens to your life."

Like many great ideas, I have absolutely no idea how I found these instructions from Ono. I have never been a fan and certainly would not go out of my way to find information about her. I did not go looking for this and yet there she was with this challenge, offering it to me by way of the computer.

I'm not a negative person. I'm pretty cheerful, in fact. I consider myself a realist philosophically, but surely I'm an optimistic realist, since I always try to focus on positive things. Heck, there's even one of my former professors who openly mocks me for smiling too much and being happy most of the time. So when I read these instructions I was fearless.

The instructions came to me about a month before Ash Wednesday and I immediately began to consider this challenge for Lent. Ok, stay with me here, I know this gets into the subject of religion and kind, southern folk are supposed to know better than to bring up religion in proper conversation. But the fact is, I am a kind, southern folk, and way back when I was born having some sort of religious faith was expected. I was and am Baptist and while we could have an animated talk about that for hours, right now let's just focus on one aspect of that fact: I never got to observe Lent. Christmas was great and Easter was great, but for my people, the only thing we did between those events was eat covered dish lunches and give really long invitations.

I tend to hang out with more contemporary thinking Baptists and even more non-denominational people so in the last several years the idea of observing Lent has come up more and more often. A couple of years ago after my son took up the habit of repeating the funny words that daddy said, I decided it would be a good time to think about changing some things. I understood how giving up things related to Lent, but as a Baptist I sort of had an obligation to not do things the way everyone else does them (it’s how we are), so I decided to try my own version of Lent. Instead of giving up something like meat or chocolate for a period of time and then lunging back into it on Easter, I wanted to give up something that I probably shouldn't be partaking of anyway and use Lent as sort of a training wheel period of making myself a better person.

That first year I gave up cursing. It did not go well. No, I’m not a foul-mouthed sailor, but I do try to make steel do things it doesn’t normally do, which often leads to heated verbal exchanges with the steel. To make it interesting I charged myself $1.00 for each slip and it was an expensive Lent. Last year I gave up soft drinks and to my knowledge I did not break that rule a single time. As a result of those two attempts, I can say that I curse much less than before and IBC root beer or a glass bottle Coke are the only carbonated beverages that get my attention.

Since there was progress and even improvement with both attempts I thought carefully about Ono's challenge. Of course I thought this would be a breeze for such a positive person. That is, until I started paying attention to how many negative things came out of my mouth on a daily basis. To call my level of negativity surprising would be a sweet understatement. I drive a lot. I say a lot of things to other drivers and not all of those things are kind. I notice stupidity and I apparently have a tendency to point it out and mock it. Suddenly I realized I was about 10 years from standing on my front porch yelling at kids to get off my lawn. No one wants to be that guy, so my mind was made up.

My wife laughed at me when I told her my plan. She said there was no way. My friend Molly laughed too and said, "This will be your Everest!" Someone suggested I’d be better off taking a vow of silence.

So for Lent this year I guess in a weird sort of way, I'm collaborating with Yoko Ono on a piece of conceptual art. I'm giving up saying negative things about people for the 40+ day period. I hope that I'll reach a heightened state of awareness and observation and that I'll be able to significantly cut down on the quantity of negative comments on a more permanent basis, but we'll start with this and see how it goes.

*Note to current students: While I am prohibited from saying anything negative about YOU personally, I am still permitted to say negative things about your projects. No soup for you!

Yoko Ono’s “100 Acorns” blog is http://100acorns.blogspot.com

This particular instruction may be found at: http://100acorns.blogspot.com/2008/08/cleaning-piece-iii.html

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I've created a monster

Last year when we had some snow my son and I made a pregnant snow mom portrait. My wife didn’t think it was quite as funny as we did, but it was awesome. A few weeks ago we had some snow and ice and he and I made a regular 3-tier snowman. He was only 2 ½ when we made last year’s so I was surprised when we finished this one and he announced that it was nice but not as good as the last one. He noted that this one needed legs and a big ol’ belly. He’s very animated. I explained that the ice/snow mixture was not good for snowman making and I assured him when we got some good snow, we’d make something better.

Last week when the good snow started falling he could hardly contain himself. He couldn’t wait to get out and make something out of the snow. So last Saturday morning we feasted on bacon and headed out to make something. We just couldn’t figure out what it was.

At first he wanted a snowman, so we started on that.

Then he wanted a snow castle so the pile of snow got bigger.

Then he wanted a monster. Then a ship. Then a hippopotamus. It was a mess. Our neighbor came over to help with the huge pile of snow and after a couple of hours I had to make a decision on what this thing was going to be.

I know this is weird, but at that point it sort of looked like some cartoon animal riding a little car. We all agreed and began to work in that direction.

Snowcar with bear, stairs, and Blue

Soon almost all the snow cover from our yard was gone and the behemoth was finished. We spent about four hours out there and by the time I dragged Blue inside his feet and legs were….well, they were blue. Peanut butter and jelly seemed to fix that.

The problem is that next year he’s going to expect us to top this.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

If it's honesty you want.....

Do you ever get disappointed after going to an artist’s website or blog hoping to find some insight or bit of inside information only to find that the “inside information” provided is calculated, dull, and generic? Well, boy do I have a treat for you today. I had an interesting experience recently and I think it might do us all some good to take an honest peek at it.

Last Friday my wife and I decided to attend the opening reception at the Green Rice Gallery in Charlotte, NC for the North to South Juried Exhibition. I realize that for many people the decision to attend or not to attend a social function is quick and easy. Even people with small children may barely blink at the thought of hiring a babysitter or packing the kids up in one of those weird backpack things and heading out for some social interaction. These decisions are never so easy for me.

Those of you who pay close attention may have noticed that the url of this e-sketchbook contains the word "hermit". Yeah. Given the choice between spending time with groups of people while attempting to make awkward conversation or drawing or reading in silence, I'll take the silence. And while my choice would be to remain a hermit 100% of the time, there is a part of being an artist that requires some form of social interaction. Yes, you can simply deliver your work and sit at home and hope for the best, but one of the most useful things my liberal arts education taught me was, and I'm quoting directly here, "You catch more flies with honey." So if you're socially inclined and you have the gift of gab and a friendly face, it is suggested that you can do more to promote yourself and your art by going to the receptions and talking up the viewers a bit. I mean, just ask yourself.....would you rather buy a sculpture from an anti-social jerk who never pokes his head out of his shell or from the friendly southern bald guy standing over there with the adorable child?

I wish I could say that I wanted to go to this reception. Honesty requires me to say that I did not want to go and that I fought with myself over the decision to attend. I could spend 5 or 6 precious hours on that new drawing....or I could go to this thing. I could prepare those other 2 sculptures for shipping instead of spending my Sunday doing it...or I could go to this thing. I could make fried rice, listen to an 8 month old laugh hysterically and make up stories with a 3 year old...or I could go to this thing.

But I went to the thing.

The awkward socializing went to the thing too. Let me explain a little. If you engage me in a conversation, I have no problem talking to you. I'll even enjoy it. If you want to talk about my art, the art in the room, or just art in general we'll have a great conversation. Heck, we can cover baseball, football, music, and religion if you like. The problem I have is that these are not usually the conversations people have at these types of events. Sure, there's the occasional person who is genuinely interested in knowing more about your work or some person you know and have not seen for a while. I do not dread those conversations. The ones I dread are the ones that are not really even conversations. Many of them go like this:

"Um, do you have something in the show?"
"Yes ma'am. That little drawing over there is mine."
"Oh." (horrible awkward silence) "Are you from around here?"
"I'm from Spartanburg, not too far away, but I show my work here pretty often and I teach nearby."
Each time I speak, I notice that the other person is scanning the room for the person they are really waiting to talk to and I realize that this "conversation" is simply a place holder. As the words are coming out of my mouth I realize that this person isn't really listening and wouldn't be able to pick me out of a lineup 20 minutes from now.
"The thing most people don't realize about me is that I'm the illegitimate son of Godzilla and Mothra and I've come to reclaim my throne as King of all radioactive lizards and moths."
"Oh. That's very interesting. It was so nice to meet you, I'm sorry, what did you say your name was?"
"Inigo Mantoya"
"Right, Inigo, it was very nice to meet you."

It's sad just how little that scenario is exaggerated.

Still, I put on my happy face and I went in with a good attitude and things went well. Just after walking in I noticed a painting by one of my grad students from last semester was in the show and then spotted her and her husband and talked a little. My wife and I then slowly moved around the gallery and saw all the artwork. We saw a few other people we knew but mostly we took this time to judge the work.

When you have work in a show with other artists there's no way to keep yourself from comparing. Most of the time I find myself feeling jealous that these people had such great ideas or wishing I could take such great photos or wishing I could paint. And when you find your work in a show with some of the best professors you had in college or with some of the bigger artist names you recognize from this region there's a mix of feelings swirling around in your head. On one hand you think, "Dude, I'm in a show with so and so". On the other hand you think, "Dang, I have zero chance of winning anything here."

After properly surveying the competition I was just thankful to be included in the exhibition and I turned my attention to where we would get coffee after the show and tried to decide if we needed to stop in for dessert somewhere or if we would rely on the snack machines in the hotel lobby for our sugar fix.

It was sometime around thinking about dessert that I realized someone had just announced that my little green sculpture had won Best in Show. This revelation caught me so off guard that I didn't even have time to be surprised. I immediately realized that I had no idea what I was expected to do. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners did not attend the reception so now I was left to stumble through walking up and shaking hands and trying not to say anything dumb. I think I may have muttered something like "holy crap" somewhere in that whole process.

Normally this would be the point where we would be free to go. We'd wrap up the baby and wave at a few folks as we quietly exited the building. We'd find chocolate and Mocha and we'd hope it didn't snow enough to make the roads dangerous. But now I thought maybe I shouldn't just run for the door. Now it was likely proper for me to stand there and have more social interaction. I just had no idea what to say. Some kind well wishers spoke and smiled and I talked briefly with a nice lady. Don't get me wrong, I was and am thrilled and completely grateful, but I was also itching to move on to a quiet place so I could process what had just happened. After a few minutes I was rescued from social discomfort by Carlee, Cameron, and TJ, all former students I don't get to talk to very often. I was totally comfortable and interested in this meandering conversation and by the time it wound down it was time to head out.

The crowd had thinned and I felt we stayed for a reasonable time. We felt great about everything and we were both still pretty shocked by it all. As we drove into the parking lot for coffee my wife told me a story that put it all in perspective. One of her super powers is the ability to blend in harmlessly in gallery situations. This power allows her to accidentally overhear all sorts of funny things that people say. Now, let me preface this by saying that there were 4 award winners in all and she was not sure which one these particular people were talking about, but here’s what she heard them say:

“Which one? THAT ONE???!!!??? Oh my gosh it’s awful! I can’t believe THAT won anything!”

Of course I assume they were talking about mine, because it’s funnier that way….and you know, I still can’t believe it either.

Footnote: The night wasn’t all peaches and sunshine. We opted for the hotel vending machines for dessert and we ended up celebrating with a Mountain Dew and a Reece’s Cup. We chose poorly.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

arts assessment: knowledge demonstrated

The 22nd Annual Undergraduate Juried Exhibition is currently on view through March 4 in Rutledge Gallery at Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC.

Each year an outside juror is brought in to examine hundreds of entries by Winthrop's students from the Department of Design and the Department of Fine Arts and only the best works are chosen and showcased in this exhibit. As you might expect, the show is filled with really strong works of art, but I always entertain myself by seeing how many of my former students are represented. This year's exhibit features some really exceptional pieces created by a relatively large number of those former students. Out of 30 students selected for inclusion in this exhibit, 9 of those are former or current sufferers of my classes. These 9 students account for a total of 20 works of art in this show. They also pulled in several purchase awards, merit awards and the award for Best in Show. That's pretty impressive if you ask me.

I should explain that by teaching part time I encounter a small fraction of the students in our Departments. I've mentioned before that I tend to be very lucky in terms of the talent level of the students in my classes. I am in no way attempting to take any credit for how well these students have turned out....I'm only taking a moment to point out that they did, in fact, turn out well. Very well. All credit goes to the students and the many other teachers they've encountered.

Need some poor quality iphone photos to inspire you to come out and see the show? Well, I just happen to have some of those...

Katie Kath's mixed media work

Huge sculpture by Nikki Patrick
One of two great sculptures by the illustrious Molly Wise
The second sculpture by Molly. These pieces earned her The Blue/Violet Award for Excellence

This Justin Wilson sculpture won Best in Show


Another great sculpture by Justin


Erica Fleming's photo of a badger hand. Or bunny feet.

4 - count them, 4 photos by Cameron Bunce from his travels to China

Amanda Matthews' wax sculptures


Brandon Oxendine (2 words from his self driven "word a day" project -www.awordaday.net)
by the way, Brandon is a great designer...web and graphics...and I hear he's looking for a job.

Ashely Herron's print

To my knowledge, Cameron Bunce, Molly Wise, Brandon Oxendine & Justin Wilson are looking to enter the workforce in the coming months. If you or anyone you know is interested in hiring some really talented people, I can put you in touch with them.